Labor Day Reviews
SCOTT: (Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond) It s never any labor to do a review with you, Greg!
GREG: It s 1987 and we re introduced to young Henry (Gattlin Griffith) who is about 12 years old. His father has left him and his mother Adele (Kate Winslet) for a younger woman. Adele is a recluse as she suffers from depression. She is afraid to go out in public wanting instead to stay home and avoid contact with the outside world. But occasionally she must venture out to do such things as buying new clothes for Henry as school starts in just a few days. While at the local store, Henry is approached by a strange man named Frank (Josh Brolin) who firmly insists that he get a ride with Henry and Adele back to their house.
SCOTT: Adele and Henry bring Frank to their home, but they are clearly afraid of him and then discover that Frank is an escaped convicted murderer. But it soon becomes clear that Frank poses no threat to them and in fact cares for their well-being. He ties up Adele but only briefly so that she can truthfully tell authorities that she helped Frank against her will. Then Frank does all he can to do to help out with chores around the house and yard. Meanwhile, law enforcement personnel searching for Frank begin to close in on him.
GREG: Scott, Labor Day is the worst kind of nonsense that we find in trashy romance novels. It shows a hunky dangerous convict with a heart of gold. We assume that he was unjustly convicted and the story bears this out through flashbacks. Frank appears to be a bad man, running from the law, but gently ties his victim to a chair and feeds her chili - so he can t be all bad, right? The heroine in the story is helpless not only in her day-to-day goings on, but also to the dark charms of our hero-villain. This is the sort of drek that sets modern feminism back 50 years. Not only that, but the plot tries to tie-in a coming of age story for young Henry. This sub-plot receives very little attention but is a welcome distraction from the unbelievable love story. The whole movie is slow and plodding and I couldn t wait for it to be over.
SCOTT: Greg, I do agree that the premise of Labor Day is a weak one, relying on the formulaic tale of a man wrongly imprisoned who escapes and must prove his romantic worthiness. Women who love to reform a bad-boy will love this film. The performances by Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet are excellent; the only problem is that even their immense talent can t spin screenplay straw into gold. The character of Frank is just a tad too perfect. He fixes things around the house, cleans the dust bunnies under the furniture, repairs the car engine, cooks like an award-winning chef, and is a tender loving caretaker to a child with cerebral palsy. Apparently, the makers of this movie got together and asked, how can we make a convicted murderer and the female lead, Adele, fall in love in only a few days? The answer they came up with was to make him perfect in every way. It just doesn t ring true.
GREG: Scott, Frank is a confusing character. On the one hand he is a violent criminal on the run from the law. In most movies that makes him the villain. But on the other hand, he is a hero - acting as a father image to young Henry. He teaches Henry to play ball, and to bake a perfect pie. I ve coined a new word for this type of character - the anti-villain. Just as we have anti-heroes (like Bonnie and Clyde) who start out good and turn to evil, the anti-villain starts out as a villain but shows the character traits of a hero.
SCOTT: I don t see the character of Frank as confusing. He s cut from the same mold as Harrison Ford s character in The Fugitive the innocent man victimized by a corrupt and incompetent legal system. We see in flashbacks that Frank had no intention of harming his wife and is in fact a sympathetic character who has suffered more than enough for any wrongdoing he may have done. I do like your characterization of Frank as an anti-villain, as he is a good man who is on the lamb. The problem with Frank as a character is that his perfection is so neatly intact from start to finish that there is no room for growth or transformation. You could argue that Adele shares the hero role with Frank -- she learns to trust and to open her heart again, but as you point out, this reduces her to a tiresome cliche straight from the pages of a cheap romance novel.
GREG: I didn t see much growth in Adele. After Frank is taken away, she still is reclusive and is barely able to function. I don t think every woman in films has to be strong and independent. But I don t care for a hero character who is fully reliant on a man to take care of her and make her happy. That s not heroic and that was no kind of transformation. The way this movie was made I felt we were watching something that came out of the 1950 s rather than 1987. Young Henry is taken away from Adele and goes to live with his father. He grows into a fine young man and ultimately returns to Adele s home for his final semester in high school. Aside from growing up, there wasn t much growth for him either. Overall, there wasn t much of a heroic story in this movie.
SCOTT: Labor Day is a sweet story of love but suffers from unrealistic characters caught in a contrived and cliched plot. If you like the idea of idealized romance without the messiness of reality to soil it, then this movie is for you. I admit I m a sucker for love stories, even poorly told ones, and I also admire the talents of Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet. For these reasons, despite its obvious flaws, I m willing to give Labor Day 2 Reels out of 5. The hero story here is pretty much non-existent. The hero (or anti-villain, as you aptly describe him, Greg) is a hollow stereotype with no room for growth. His story also lacks many of the classic social elements of the hero s journey, such as the presence of mentors, sidekicks, and father figures. Adele is a sympathetic figure but is hardly heroic herself. Her role is simply to observe Frank s greatness and be affected by it. Sadly, I give Frank, and even Adele, a mere 1 Hero out of 5. The villains are an inconsequential element of the story in Labor Day. The cops looking for Frank are hardly villains, and they exist merely as props to bring the romance between Frank and Adele to life. For this reason, I can only award 1 Villain out of 5. Movie: Villain: Hero:
GREG: Scott, we have vastly different views of this film and yet come away with similar scores. Brolin and Winslet do a great job of acting in this film. Jason Reitman s directing is very good. It s just that I really hated the story. I can t get behind a convicted murderer abducting a woman and her son who is really a good guy at heart. A good guy would never have taken hostages - regardless of how well he treated them. What Adele really underwent was Stockholms syndrome - where the hostage begins to side with the kidnapper. If it weren t for the excellent craftsmanship of this film I d have awarded it just 1 Reel. But for good performances and good direction, I give Labor Day 2 out of 5 Reels. Frank comes off as heroic and we pity him his situation. But as far as heroes go, I don t think he measures up. As I just said, no true hero would take hostages. But when you score him on your Great Eight Characteristics, he does pretty well. I give Frank 1 Hero out of 5. And Frank is also the villain, but because he is the romantic interest and father image he doesn t provide any opposition. I give Frank his anti-villain score of 1 Villain out of 5. Movie: Villain: Hero:
I really disagreed with the casting of Josh Brolin as Frank. To me, Frank was more of a brutish man in appearance; making his domesticity even more of a contrast. I pictured a sort-of Vin Diesel when reading the novel. Kate Winslet, on the other hand, was perfect for the role of Adele. She has that ability to be both plain and beautiful, both ordinary or extraordinary; as we saw in The Reader.
The critics accuse the film of being "slow-paced" and "going nowhere". For a novel like this, where much of the "action" is inside the head of a teenage boy, it lies with the director to bring it all to life. Though Reitman has definitely shown talent before, he didn't hit his stride with this one. If I had watched the film before reading the book, I wouldn't have bothered; I would have walked away a contented viewer, but I would never have engaged with the story the way I did with Maynard's text.